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Seven hours at Occupy Philly

15 Oct

As many of you know, I went to Occupy Wall Street last weekend for two days (Friday and Saturday). I was amazed by the level of  organization in the tiny (we’re talking maybe a little bigger than your high school basketball court) park. However, since it had become so visible (finally) in the media due to arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge the weekend before, it was totally packed. It was almost impossible to get involved in any real way, because there were so many people already there and set in their functions. Perhaps if I could go on a weekday during work hours I would encounter a different space. I felt more like an observer than a part of the protest, which is probably valid, since I really was. I did enjoy the break out student session where I met many other New Jersey college students who were also in town for the weekend.

On Saturday I observed a General Assembly at Washington Square Park. There were so many people, the People’s Mic had to echo in waves to the back so everyone could understand what was going on.

All in all, Occupy Wall Street was an excellent experience. I got to see how the movement works, which is through organized direct democracy. I also got to hang out with the Raging Grannies, which made the whole trip worth it.

This weekend I headed to Philly. I had no plan aside from the schedule posted to Occupy Philly’s facebook page. When I started walking over, it started to rain. The rain was not the issue. It was really the huge gusts of wind that were my problem. I had about a twenty minute walk to City Hall, where the Occupy camp is set up. Not entirely sure if anyone would even be there after the downpour, I carried on down Market to City Hall.

It stopped raining by the time I arrived (but not before my jeans got totally soaked) and there were, in fact, many people walking around. Market street goes out from either side of City Hall. I came up to the back and was met by this visual: police guarding the same metal bike-rack looking barricades used to prevent occupiers from getting onto Wall Street. These barriers stretched around half of the building, with an opening in the back for city employees to enter. The only part of City Hall without barricades is the front, where Occupy Philly is set up. There are closed gates separating the inside of City Hall from the Occupy encampment. There may be a myriad of reasons for this, including recent vandalism that Occupy Philly does not claim and does not support. Anyway, this certainly put me on my guard as I continued on to find the camp.

I wandered around for a bit and oriented myself. I took pictures of wet signs. I got compliments on my “I want my tax dollars to support abortion access!” shirt. There is a septa stop that lets off right in the middle of Occupy Philly (super convenient!). The stairway coming up from the middle has a large circular opening (you can probably see it in some of the pictures from the protests here). Around this circle, there are many tents facing out. The library is here (there’s a library here and in New York too!), the message tent, the jobs with justice tent, and many others. I saw a group that looked approachable and walked over to them.

They were wonderful. I met J, a father, whose kids span in age from college age to elementary school. He is recently unemployed and his wife just graduated from a professional program for nursing. Their kids in college are both on scholarships, but they also have to take out loans and are accruing college debt every semester. We talked about the wars in Afghanistan, college loans and student debt, fracking and the cost of this natural gas obsession for communities whose water becomes toxic and undrinkable.

I also met B, who is a part of the local Workers World organization (it’s socialist. I bet you guessed that.) She also informed me about fracking. Her husband is a retired postal worker, and her son is in prison for a drug offense. She believes in a future where human good is the motivator for governance. We also talked about her experiences in Cuba and her views on the USSR (which are certainly different from mine).

I then headed over to the Messages tent, which had a big sign:

"What's the message? You tell us!"

I met the person running the tent (whose name escapes me) and he explained the process. The messaging working group is taking on the task of coming up with a sound bite that encompasses the complexity of Occupy Philly’s diverse demands through the use of a survey. It is an open survey, so no one has to choose from provided answers about what they think the movement is about. It has questions about the movement in general, and about the local and community concerns that Occupy Philly seeks to address. After they collected them yesterday, they’re going to take all of the answers and do two things: the first is determine, through the prevalence of similar answers, what Occupy Philly is “about.” I think this reflects the direct democracy process that undergirds the entire movement: the messaging working group could be creating this message themselves based on what they observe at General Assemblies, but instead they are using methods that allow the protesters’ words to define what the message is. The second part, that I will unfortunately not be around to see, is the creation of a word cloud from all of the answers. Once the word cloud is done, they’re going to project it onto the side of City Hall so everyone can see what the occupiers think the movement is about. The guy working the Message tent is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Penn, so we also had a nice long conversation about the difference between anthropology and sociology, and he explained some nuances of anthropology to me. This was super helpful, because I’m seriously considering anthropology as a discipline if I decide to go for a PhD. We also talked about the way that this movement is growing, and how the direct democracy governance works. He identifies as an anarchist, and I admitted that I’m a progressive liberal, but we had a really constructive conversation about Ron Paul-like ideas and the assumption that the state is the appropriate level for governance.

Next, I visited the library, or as it is called here at Occupy Philly “The Book Exchange.” According to the woman who was hanging out with the books, people just started bringing them to donate to the camp and that is how the book exchange began.

There was a march I hadn’t intended on participating in (because of the ankle I sprained on my way to Occupy Wall Street last week) but I ended up doing it anyway. It was awesome. First, they told us the number to call in case we were arrested and did a quick review of statements to remember if you are. Not gonna lie, that made me nervous, but I saved the number in my phone and took a position among the marchers. When we left, we were about half as large in numbers as when we got back to camp. People were constantly coming in off the sidewalk and joining in with the march. People of all ages, ethnicities, and apparent socio-economic backgrounds gave us signs of encouragement as we marched around the city. At one point, an elderly woman on her balcony gave us two or three thumbs down. I caught her eyes as I was chanting “We! Are! The 99 Percent! (And so are you!)” and gave her a peace sign and a smile. It was a really great feeling, because I finally felt a part of the movement. I really identify with what this movement is saying, as most of you who have talked to me/followed my tumblr posts/seen my facebook link spam would know. We stopped in front of the Apple store and did a people’s mic call out about the exploitation of the people who make Apple products (ending with a statement that we hope that we can have those products without that exploitative labor). We also stopped in front of Urban Outfitters to talk about their tax loopholes (they don’t pay local, state, or federal taxes). It was a really great public education direct action moment. People were taking pictures and video, and there were so many people giving us support through thumbs up, peace signs, solidarity fists, and applause. A lot of people working in the businesses we passed showed their support from the restaurants and shops where they were working. It was fantastic. Some people expressed concern at smaller numbers than last week, but others made the valid point that it was really wet and gross outside. It started raining on us at the very end of the march, but we kept going down Market to City Hall and never stopped chanting.

To escape the rain, I hopped back under the Workers World tent and ended up in a class on socialism and capitalism. Though I am more of a progressive than a socialist (and I think we need a new theory of economics outside of the capitalist/socialist binary), I really enjoyed the class. The organizer, Rob, was very good at facilitating discussion while allowing everyone to have a chance to speak their minds. The people in the meeting spanned unemployed, 40-something black adults struggling for their families, a college-aged young white man with Krohn’s disease and concerns about health care coverage, a white woman in her mid-thirties employed at a company focused on “increased productivity,” which is code for more work with less pay, and a young black man who self-identified as “working class,” saying that capitalism has been impacting him his entire life. There were also two female social workers, a family with three young daughters, and a Vietnam war vet and a Vietnam draft dodger. Many others came in and out of the discussion as it went on. It ended up taking two hours instead of the one hour assigned (which meant I missed dinner. I ended up eating an entire box of Trader Joe’s chicken noodle when I got back at 9:30) and I arrived at the General Assembly a few minutes late. Everyone’s knowledge was treated as worth hearing. The one issue I had was that the same (male) people felt comfortable controlling the conversation while I had to work twice as hard to to be heard. At one point, I tried to start a sentence three or four times with older men talking over me until the facilitator interrupted them and said it was my turn to speak. I also had this experience later when the General Assembly broke out into small discussion groups to talk about a proposal that had been brought by the legal working group. Usually, it took a white male recognizing my struggle to speak for my voice to be heard. In the sixties, women in the civil rights and church movements found that their ideas and voices were not respected. I would not say that this was my experience, because when I did speak my ideas were taken seriously and respected as valid knowledge. My difficulties lay in getting the opportunity to speak, which is not to lessen the importance of addressing these kind of gendered disparities in the movement.

When I finally got to the General Assembly, they were halfway through announcements from the working groups. At both Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Philly, the occupiers use the People’s Mic to communicate ideas without microphones. Whenever the person speaking says something (which should be 1-4 words long), the people who can hear them repeat it to the people behind them. It works really well when people remember to project to the back.

I got to observe a decision making process while I was there. I didn’t see it through to the end, because I was hungry and cold and was not going to vote (since I am not a permanent member of Occupy Philly and may not be able to make it back this semester), but I was fascinated by the process of direct democracy.

First, the proposal was presented to the General Assembly through the People’s Mic. Then, the person facilitating the GA opens the “stacks.” This is a way for everyone who has something to say to get the chance to do so. The entire process is highly organized. First, the stacks are opened for “clarifying questions.” Everyone at the GA had one minute to get to the “stack-takers,” two people designated to record the names for the stacks and eventually count votes in the straw poll and final votes, so their name would be on the stacks. Once the stacks are closed, the stack takers go down the list and those on the stacks ask their questions to the person/working group presenting the proposal. The People’s Mic operates at every level of this process to make sure everyone hears what is going on. After the clarifying questions are asked, the stacks were opened for two minutes to concerns. Everyone on the stacks airs their concerns. After all of the concerns have been heard, there is a straw poll to determine whether the proposal should be rejected or whether the process should continue to “friendly amendments.” If there is not a clear majority rejecting the amendment, which happened with the first proposal put to the GA by the tech working group, the GA continues to “friendly amendments.” Amendments follow the same stacks procedure, giving everyone the opportunity to put their name on the stacks and offer an amendment. The amendments are heard one by one, and each amendment has its own clarifying questions and concerns process. Then, there is a final vote on each amendment offered. In the straw polls and the final votes, stack takers go into the crowd and physically touch every person with their hand raised to insure that all who vote are counted. After friendly amendments, any amendments passed are added to the proposal, and the proposal comes to a straw poll and a final vote. If the straw poll doesn’t show a clear majority, the General Assembly breaks up into small groups of people coming from all sides of the issue to discuss their views and talk about the proposal. Once five minutes of discussion has passed, everyone reassembles and new concerns coming out of those group discussions are shared through the stack process. I left at this point, because it was after 9 and I was seriously hungry and tired. I don’t know if it passed, but I was really impressed by how organized the process was and the commitment to real direct democracy that the occupiers show. There is an understanding that this process means that any decision making takes time, but there is a real commitment to the process.

I did notice some tensions at the meeting, though, which I’d like to discuss here very briefly (because this is already the longest blog post ever). A few questions were raised because of the nature of the proposal. The first was around the contention that occupations are inherently adversarial. Part of the proposal was about dealing with the city, and it made me wonder how you handle communications between a radical direct democracy and the structures that govern the city. If it is inherently adversarial, what does this mean for that relationship? The city has the power to evict the occupiers through force (though I have to mention that this occupation is happening about ten blocks from a large stone with the text of the first amendment, which includes the right of the people to peaceably assemble), as we have seen at other cities like Boston, and so it is in the interest of a continued occupation that they work with the city. For other occupiers, it is in the interest of a radical paradigm shift that Occupy Philly not follow tradition communication patterns with the city. This tension is just one piece of the complicated process that is direct democracy.

Another tension in direct democracy was the response of some who had helped craft the proposal to the concerns and demands of those in the General Assembly responding to it. It was obvious from their body language as they whispered in the background that they assumed they knew what was right for the proposal and the rest of the GA simply did not understand, or were not being realistic. In a direct democracy, one of the assumptions I have based on all of the processes is that everyone’s knowledge is valued. But, does direct democracy actually mean that everyone’s input is respected, or is it simply that everyone gets to have input? Is there space in this movement to break down our prejudices about where legitimate knowledge comes from and who can have it? I, for one, really hope so. Those on the working team behind the proposal did not seem to share this feeling. However, it can’t be easy to try to bridge the gap I mentioned before between the city and the self-identifying radical protesters.

Direct democracy is messy. This movement is complicated. It moves slowly because of the value placed on every person’s voice and vote having the capability to be heard. None of those who keep demanding a “clear message” or “specific demands” understand the nature of this process. There are more radical anarchist protesters alongside liberal protesters and socialists, but all of them have the opportunity to communicate their ideas and teach people about their perspectives. Occupy Philly has really helped me understand the movement at the level of the nitty gritty, the every day. I’m excited to go back in a few minutes (now that I’ve finished a delicious bagel at Old City Coffee on Church street) for the marches and rallies planned for today. I also volunteered to watch the tent for a while with the World Workers so some of the long-time volunteers can have a break. I want to make a sign, but I’m not sure what my sign would say.

Finally, I’d just like to address a couple general things about Occupy Together. First of all, whether you agree with the movement or not, I seriously recommend that you go out to the local events near you. There are events happening across the country and around the world. According to an article I read earlier, there are planned events in over 800 cities. Chances are there is one near you. If you think you’re familiar with the demands of the movement and you don’t think it represents you, go to the movement and represent yourself. The movement doesn’t identify itself with any political party or ideology, and those involved are incredibly diverse and united by anger about inequality in the United States and an understanding that the top 1% have been complicit in (if not entirely responsible for) these inequalities and the financial crisis in 2008. The movement is open to all ideas and all voices. This is a movement for you. This movement is ready to hear your voice. The 99% they are speaking to are obviously not all liberal, but the movement is concerned for all disenfranchised people. I’m not saying your ideas will not be met with discussion or argument, all ideas in a diverse direct democracy are up for debate. But, the movement won’t reflect you until you get into the movement. So get out there and do it!

Solidarity and love from Philly,

Me

(P.S. I published this using Occupy Philly’s free wifi)

How a love of life can equal hating women, or, my issues with “pro-life” rhetoric

24 Aug

I posted this status:

Anti-choice legislation doesn’t do anything for anyone. It creates a larger burden for women who already have the least amount of access to reproductive health options. It takes away options for family planning and then blames women for the consequences. It pretends to care about fetuses as it comes from the same people who are cutting funding for education and refuse to talk childcare. It is oppression and it is sexism and it is woman-hating. Plain and simple.

In response to reading this article:

Planned Parenthood vs. the States: The Legal Battles Rage

And someone commented with:

Explain to me how love of life equals to hate of women.

I thought that my argument was outlined pretty well in my status, but then I took another look and decided to try to tease all of my thoughts out. Ta-da! Short new blog post.

My issue is assuming that these bills come from a “love of life.” I don’t see how they express anything close to that. Yes, they seem to be deeply invested in a bag of cells developing to birth within every uterus ever, but I don’t call that a “love of life.” I think to claim you “love life,” you have to be honest about what kind of lives you love. The anti-choice movement values the “life” of the fetus (and I say “fetus” because they don’t push nearly as much legislation that would guarantee support for the fetus after birth, and as a matter of fact they demonize such laws as “entitlement programs” for the “takers” and “moochers” and are currently taking funding away from public schools like it is their job), and that is where it ends. They have no love for the life of the woman, and if they do, it is a very patronizing kind of love that assumes they know how that woman can have her best life. They also seem to be fine with the lives of poor women, rural women, and women of color being further marginalized through lack of access, because those are the groups of women that are most directly impacted by this legislation.

I don’t think that a “love of life,” in an honest definition of the phrase, would be equal to hate of women. But this is not actually love of life.

What it is is pushing a patriarchal set of beliefs drawn from right-wing Christianity onto an entire population of people who have the capacity to give birth. It is expecting that all people with uteri should conform to your idea of a life deserving of love, and those deserving lives do not include the vast majority of people. That “love of life” is conditional. You love the life of the person if they avoid having sex before they want to procreate so that they will only ever have children that are wanted. You love the life of the person who can provide for that child adequately so they don’t have to rely on welfare or adequate public schooling. You love the life of a woman who is defined only in reference to the full use of her reproductive capacity.

I don’t know about y’all, but I would not call that “love of life.” I would call that prejudice and marginalization through laws. And that is some sexist, misogynist, classist, and racist BULL. SHIT.

[Side note: I realize that I use the word “woman” here quite often, though I tried to also use phrases to include all gender-identifying people who have the capacity to give birth. Anti-choice legislation does not just affect those who identify as “women.” This legislation is oppressive to all people, and specifically to those uterus-having people who run the risk of getting pregnant in our society. I apologize for any cisgendered bias that ended up in this post.]

**UPDATE!**

So, after someone responding to the above blogginess as akin in rhetoric to Ann Coulter and Michelle Bachmann, I responded with this, which I though would be a good addition to round out this post as well:

I really have to disagree with you on associating “anti-choice” with “anti-life.” When I wrote the first part of this blog, I was absolutely in a state of feminist rage. The resulting explanation of my issues with the word “life” in association with any of the family-planning related legislation was certainly more of a “preaching to the choir” move than an attempt to appeal to people who do not see the world the way I do. That is certainly true. However, I stopped using the term “pro-life” a long time ago. To me, it represents the same kind of misleading rhetoric that the “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” do. “Pro-life” inherently demonizes everything else. As I pointed out in my rant on my blog, I find it difficult to accept “pro-life” as the name of a movement that only cares about the life of an unborn child. I say that because the policies reflect this: restrictive policies don’t actually increase the health of the mother nor does having an unwanted baby necessarily improve the life quality of the person giving birth. Further, these laws are never brought up at the same time as laws that would guarantee that every child born has adequate food, housing, education, and support. As a matter of fact, the party supporting this legislation consistently demonizes mothers on welfare and is currently stripping funding from education.

Of course, not all people who identify as personally “pro-life” support this legislation. I know plenty of people who identify as feminists but are “pro-life” when it comes to their own reproductive choices. I am talking about the political movement taking form in hundreds of bills pushing to restrict women’s access to reproductive health. For the reasons I’ve listed above, and for so many more reasons that I don’t have the space to share here (including the fact that if the “pro-life” goal were achieved and abortion was made illegal, we would go back to the time when women died of illegal and self-performed abortions) I will not support this rhetoric of misrepresentation that creates knowledge where women’s access to control of their reproductive lives is associated with being against “life.” I refuse to give any support to this discourse that is directly responsible for laws that restrict all people with the capacity to get pregnant.

In my work on analyzing discourse, I found an explanation of “common sense” and “taken-for-granteds” as tools that the powerful use to influence the powerless. Using “pro-life” to describe a movement that continually strips women’s abilities to control their own lives through legislative action is one of these “taken-for-granteds” that now fully permeates our culture. I refuse to accept these policies and this political agenda as having any real investment in life, and so, it is a political, critical, and feminist stance that I take when I call this movement “anti-choice.”

Ann Coulter makes statements that are racist, classist, sexist, ableist, and misogynist and full of shock value to defend patriarchal ideological beliefs. Michelle Bachmann consistently uses information that are, in fact, non-facts to support her arguments, which also fit under what I would call patriarchal legislation.

As a person who has a uterus, I am affected by the legislation that comes out of this movement. As someone who refuses to fit into patriarchal expectations of my sexuality and reproductive health, I am one of the demonized by this rhetoric of “life.” Comparing my choice to call this movement “anti-choice” in order to show the sexist and misleading nature of the term “pro-life” with the misogynist and utterly horrifying rhetoric of Michelle Bachmann and Ann Coulter is offensive and completely misses the point. Further, it erases the hierarchies of power and institutionalized oppression that separate me, a woman, from the powerful political movement that represses my reproductive rights and my access to equality through the erasure of those rights.It assumes all things are equal and somehow innocent of demonizing discourse in their existing state of “pro-life” “pro-choice,” when nothing could be further from the truth.

And that, as they say, is that! Good night all!

Well, Mercedes, in answer to your question…

20 Apr

Today I was watching one of my favorite shows, Glee, with some of my favorite feminist peeps (as per usual on a Tuesday). I am fully aware of the issues many feminists and activists have with the show, and bitch magazine has done a great job of complementing my fanatic consumption of all things Glee with their fierce feminist criticism, and I am ever so grateful for this.

This post is not going to be all too long, I don’t think, because I just want to comment really quickly on a clip from tonight. Too bad I can’t find it online yet. The basic gist of it is (and I don’t think this is too much of a spoiler if you didn’t see tonight’s episode, but in case you’re worried, wait until you watch it) that Mercedes and Rachel are in a car talking about solos, divas, and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

I’m going to have to ad-lib a bit, but the conversation basically the scene from Glee went like this:

Mercedes: Why don’t I get as many solos as you do?

Rachel: Blah blah blah its about how much you want it blah blah blah you have to demand respect blah.

I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what Rachel said here, because my commentary with my friends was happening over her little speech about how she wants to be in the spotlight more than anything else in the world as an explanation of why she gets more solos than Mercedes.

Here is what happened in my living room:

Mercedes: Why don’t I get as many solos as you do?

Me: Institutionalized racism

Aimee: Fatphobia

Alex: I love you guys

[Insert high five of feminist critical analysis here]

This is the thing. I realize that Glee is “just a show” and that the characters exist within a fictional universe where the realities of our culture don’t necessarily have to exist. However. The people who are writing the show are living in our society, writing about life in high school in our society, and pandering to entertainment executives and a consumer population deeply embedded and implicated in our society. The characters of Glee, like us, sit at the crossroads of many social institutions and structures, constructions of identity and subjectivities. This is why I had to cut Rachel off. (Well, as much as I could without muting Glee, because that would be blasphemous.)

Mercedes does not get as many solos as Rachel because she is a) a woman who is b) black and c) fat and not ashamed (and yes, I am including the episode where she experiments with dieting and experiences body insecurity because all of our experiences with our bodies are nuanced and full of shades of gray). Unlike Lauren Zizes (or just “Zizes,” as she is known on the show), who has been allowed to have a sexuality and a relationship with a popular, attractive football player, Mercedes has also not had any romantic entanglements beyond a crush on Kurt, her gay friend, and a fleeting conversation with a  random guy who only appears in one or two episodes after Kurt suggests she pursue him (she responds, at first, and for good reason, “Is it just because he’s black?”). I would suggest that part of this is because Zizes was already posited as a deviant female character in one of the first episodes (as the female wrestler who broke gender boundaries at McKinley High), and performs a deviant form of feminine sexuality (forward, confident, aggressive, body positive). Zizes is also white, and her identity as fat has been central to her character development.

Mercedes is supposed to exist outside of her size (now that she’s no longer trying to be a Cheerio) and outside of her race (except for passing comments like Kurt’s “I’m gay, she’s black, we make culture.”), so those cannot be reasons she doesn’t receive the same opportunities for solos as Rachel (thin, neurotic, Jewish). But, if we’re looking at Glee through a feminist lens that demands a position at the intersections, we have to call that out.

Rachel’s suggestion that Mercedes just doesn’t want it enough, or has too many other interests in her life other than the “spotlight,” puts the blame on Mercedes instead of a Glee club that reflects certain racist and sizeist aspects of patriarchal culture. I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of arguments about minorities’ ability to gain employment, succeed in school, and escape the “cycle of poverty” and the welfare system. If only these populations would try harder, and really want it, they, too could occupy the place in society they desire. These arguments not only deny but render invisible considerations of race, class, and other factors in access and opportunity in our society. There are structural mechanisms of oppression that allow certain people, more reflective of the hegemonic masculine ideal, access to opportunities (or solos) while keeping others, quite literally Othered, in their hierarchical place.

Phew.

By the way, I still love Glee. Have you seen this new Warblers CD?!

Love and Solidarity,

G

who doesn’t like adele? the point of tumblr, and other thoughts.

18 Apr

So basically, Alyssa is the goddess of all things social and networked, except not that movie because she’s too cool for that, and so now she has me on tumblr. It isn’t her fault, she’s just never set a trend I didn’t want to follow. If you are interested, which you don’t have to be, you can check it out. feminismisprettycool.tumblr.com 

As for the big, “but what IS tumblr” question, I still don’t really have an answer, except its kind of like posting links to things on facebook, maybe? Or like a blog without the necessity of putting words there. I feel like it’s especially useful for those who have many internet interests and like to share them. I tried to give mine  theme, so I’d spend more time focusing my internet browsing on feminist things, and I’d say that has worked about 50% of the time, all the time.

Adele. I feel like there should be some little twittering birds flying out of something vintage an iridescent whenever I say her name or think of her music. She is just so fabulous. Her voice is amazing, her songs cut right to the core of the experience of life and love, and I just want to listen to 21 on loop all day, every day. Yes, she has replaced Ke$ha. (In my earbuds, but not in my heart.) I’ll just throw the one AMAZING, FANTASTIC, MINDBLOWING live performance up here and if that doesn’t convinced you (as if you needed convincing) I am pretty sure we can’t be friends anymore.

Now on to a topic de rigueur. Microaggressions. Everyone is talking about them. The folks at the Rutgers Vagina Monologues were talking about them, bitch is blogging about them, so is feministing, and there’s even a (you guessed it!) tumblr devoted to them. Really, the tumblr started it all (as you’ll see if you check on the blogs on bitch and feministing). What is a microaggression, you might ask?

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” (From “Microaggressions in Everyday Life” by Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D., and David Rivera, M.S.)

I also think the microaggressions tumblr puts it pretty succinctly:

“Power, privilege, and everyday life.”

Originally, microaggressions were used to describe a specifically racialized experience. Through the tumblr, the creators seek to expand this understanding to include all experiences of microaggressions, whether they deal with race, gender, class, ability, or any other identity or status. Our everyday lived experiences are rife with examples, and when we bring them up, we are all too often met with admonishments about taking things “too seriously.” What is great about the work of all of these people are doing to bring microaggressions to the forefront is that it frees us from our self-doubt: we are not taking something “too seriously,” it is serious. We get so entangled in the requisite laughter that is supposed to meet these incidents, it becomes impossible to call anyone out, much less to address the real feelings we may have in response to them and the serious societal consequences of letting them slide.

I am going to give an example of an interaction from my life. It happened before I learned about the term, and my indignance took a few days of simmering in the back of my brain to find a voice, but after hearing about microaggressions I realize this is tied up in all of it. The example may at first seem kind of roundabout, but bear with me. Okie doke?

A friend of mine was commenting on my inability to take racist and sexist jokes, which was keeping me from socializing with a specific group of people who, I am sure, are completely fine in general, but I am no longer at the point in my life where I can laugh racism and sexism off and continue to have a good time. I’m sure some of you understand where I’m coming from. Our conversation continued, and eventually came to this point:

“You just have to laugh it off. Like, when I am walking down the street at night and a white lady clutches her purse and looks all scared, it just makes me laugh. You know?”

For purely contextual purposes, I think its important to mention that my friend is a young black man. Other than the fact that my feminism makes it difficult for me to not take any prejudice seriously, I couldn’t find the words to explain to my friend in that moment why his words were so unsettling. The next day, the thoughts popped into my head, like some little hidden social justice debater part of my brain had been mulling it over without my knowledge all night: It frustrated me, because it just wasn’t funny. Young black men have statistically higher chances of going to prison, and when trying to find employment, young black men with no criminal record are less likely to get a job than their white counterparts who do have criminal records. An expectation of violence breeds higher rates of conviction and incarceration, and lower levels of employment, and higher levels of poverty. That woman who walked by him at night and clutched her purse is endemic of a larger societal prejudice that has real impacts on the lived experiences of people. This  is why microaggressions matter.

I’m really happy they’re getting some attention, and I hope this becomes a word as well-worn as “intersectionality” in our feminist and general circles in life.

I really need to get off this damn computer and sleep, I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to start blogging at one in the morning and I completely and totally blame my friend Kendra, but I have one more little teeny tiny thing to add. Remember when I wrote that really, really angry (and rightfully so) post about cat calling and street harassment? You might recall it from last semester. Anywho, I almost jumped for joy when I found out that Mandy Van Deven, one of the authors of Hey Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets (on sale from the awesome feminist press) and all around badass, is doing a short blog series on street harassment for bitch! I am so. freaking. excited.

Until next time…

-G

 

 

 

 

 

So you want to be “pro-life”

20 Feb

Do you?

I need to throw this disclaimer out there to anyone who is reading this: I am so, incredibly, totally pissed.

When I was in high school, my friends and I decided to do a history fair project on Roe v. Wade. Up until that day, I had very specific beliefs about abortion. I was a practicing Methodist who was very involved in the church, and that had a lot to do with it. Plus, I was a little self-righteous middle class white teenage girl who thought she knew absolutely everything. I believed that abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest, or medical necessity, because I honestly believed that you should only have sex if you were ready to deal with the consequences. Obviously, I didn’t get out much. Then we went and interviewed Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade, and my entire perspective on abortion changed.

The truth, that I did not honestly know, is that before abortion was legal, women got abortions anyways. And they didn’t always survive. The OB/GYNs and the emergency room physicians told Weddington that women showed up at hospitals every day infected, hurting, and dying from illegal abortions. Some illegal abortion providers sexually assaulted the women they came to help. Some women took pills full of toxic chemicals, or shoved knitting needles and hangars up their vaginas in order to end their pregnancies. Some women, like a girl named Sophie that Sarah told us about, were able to procure safe illegal abortions, but then, because those providing them were not always trained doctors, were given false and misleading aftercare information that led to infections and, in Sophie’s case, death. After learning the lengths that women would go to, even my relatively conservative Christian morals could not stand in the way of my concern for women’s lives.

Now, my opinions have changed. I do not believe that anyone should be denied the right to any family planning services, including abortion. I am a self-identifying sex positive pro-choice feminist, and I would not have it any other way. I don’t think sex is just for procreation. If it was, relationships, and life, would be much less fun. Also, I don’t believe that abortion has to be a life-altering decision, or one that is emotionally devastating. I validate and affirm all experiences of women who have abortions, and I have no expectations of how they will or should feel. It is their own personal decision, and that is how it should stay.

Since the conservative Republican majority has taken over, there have been multiple assaults at state and national levels against women’s rights to choose. Of course, these assaults, especially the recent vote in the house to defund Title X and, therefore, Planned Parenthood, are not only on abortion services. It is a valid point to bring up the plethora of other services that Planned Parenthood provides in cities across the country to the poorer citizens in those communities. These include HIV testing, breast cancer screenings, and annual pap smears, to name only a small few. You can check out the Planned Parenthood website for more information on the wide variety of reproductive health services they provide.

But, you know what? There is a reason that none of the republicans are standing up in Congress saying, “We don’t want to fund breast cancer screenings!” You want to know why? Because this is not about all of those other services. This is specifically about abortion. So I’m taking them to the mat. I refuse to tip toe around this issue. I believe it is my right to have access to safe and legal abortions and to have health insurance that allows me to pay for them, whether that is private or state funded. I don’t care if you are Catholic or some other form of conservative and you think that this little sack of cells is more important than my life and my decisions. I simply don’t care. I will not force you to abort your fetus or to take birth control if those don’t fit into your life plans, so why do you feel that you have the right to make those decisions for my life? The thing is, you don’t. And for far too long we have been too afraid of the controversy to come out and say these kinds of things. We have hidden behind things like Obama’s statment, “No-one is pro-abortion,” and arguments that shy away from coming face to face with the anti-choice rhetoric that focuses on the rights of the fetus. So here I am, telling all of you anti-choicers out there, I am pro-abortion. I am pro women having access to every level of family planning that allows them to live their lives as they see fit. Further, I believe that women have the capacity to make that choice. Yes, all women. I am not going to take back that statement. For too long we have let things like 24 hour waiting policies and mandatory sonograms slide because we are afraid of the public reaction to our views. I am not afraid anymore. I can see that the writing is, in fact, on the wall and that they anti-life people have left behind any attempts they ever made to be objective. If they aren’t being objective, why do I have to be? Your policies don’t have anything to do with protecting women. As a matter of fact, they put women at risk. By limiting the funding available for places like Planned Parenthood and the ability of women with health insurance through the government to have their abortions covered, the women who are most directly impacted are already poor. Do you really think the best idea is to force, through your legislation that implies that you do not trust women’s abilities to make this decision, these women to have an even greater financial burden? Why is a fetus so much more important than a child? I don’t see you rushing out to implement national child care. As soon as that fetus hits air and becomes a living, breathing, being, your lobbying no longer protects her. The idea of a 24 hour waiting period is offensive and preposterous. Are you implying that the woman making this decision didn’t already spend 24 hours thinking about this decision? Further, you assume that all women have the ability to take 24 hours after getting to a clinic to wait to have an abortion. Again, this puts the burden on poor women and women in rural areas; two realities that all too often coincide.

I respect your right to make decisions regarding your own body, but my respect stops there.

When I called my father on Friday in a tizzy because the House had just passed the bill to defund Title X, he told me that it was “just politics” and that people had “voted for these representatives.” This was infuriating for multiple reasons. I did not vote for any of these people, which was the first. Second, this is not just politics. None of this is “just politics.” Politics are never “just politics.” I also had this feeling that I could not articulate at the time, that if he had a uterus, he would not have been telling me to calm down. “Entitlement programs,” he told me, “are always the first to go.” Maybe that is the recent historical reality, but that doesn’t mean I have to let it happen without a fight.

I am throwing down the gauntlet and pointing the blame at everyone who voted in this conservative House. Hopefully the Senate will stop this bill. I already called the offices of both of my senators and have their aids a piece of my mind. But, just because the bill stops doesn’t mean the fight is over. This passing in the House should be a wake-up call to everyone who has been blissfully unaware of the precarity of our rights to reproductive justice in this country. It isn’t time to sit back and watch politics play out, like my father suggested. It’s time to take notice and demand that the voices of a few self-righteous fundamentalist Christians aren’t the only ones being heard.

Be on the lookout for deeper policy analysis coming out of this blog in the next few weeks.

There is a rally in NYC at Foley Square on the 26th of February in support of Planned Parenthood and against all of this ridiculous anti-choice legislation. It is from 1-3. You should be there.

-me

Thought of the Day

24 Jan

This post should be short, as I’m using it to actively procrastinate (or, maybe not: is it still procrastination if you are working through information you are in the middle of reading?). Nevertheless, here is the framing of this thought: I am currently wading through a few hundred pages of reading for the week. I’ve gotten through my readings on gender and human rights and inequality, poverty and gender, but now I have come to my readings for feminist knowledge production. I could probably go on for endless paragraphs even about what that name means, but the point is, I’m reading the first chapter of Feminist Research in Theory and Practice and am in the middle of the section about language. Many theorists argue that, while talking about knowledge and knowledge production, especially from a feminist perspective, you must consider language as the creator of reality. Language is determined by those with access to power and authoritative knowledge, these barriers are designated by those with the most cultural control, and historicall in a Western sense, those people have been men. Specifically, white, upper class men. There are arguments about whether language is or should be presented as the sole motivator in the constitution of reality, I don’t want to get into that.

Right now, the author is discussing political correctness and its effects on language and on the work of feminists to subvert masculinist language and discourse. If “politially correct” is the concept that enourages gender-neutral terms for occupations and pronouns as well as the political catechrises and reappropriation of words previously connotated derogatory, then a culture that rebels against politcal correctness is likely to reject and ridicule these attempts. Further, through manipulation of language over time, words like spinster (originally referring to a woman who worked with a spindle. These women just happened to enjoy a higher than normal standard of living for women, by the by) and gossip (originally meaning a friend who was there for the birth of a child and would take on the role of godparent) have turned into deragatory terms that are mainly targeted at women. And, when used in reference to men, have a doubly damning impact of also feminizing the one in question. Like these words, “feminism” is now out of vogue. I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me why, if it has such a negative connotation, don’t I just pick another word? When I mention that some people have negative reactions to the word, the most common response is almost accusatory, like I am asking for this response because I already know that feminism is the other “f-word” and that people don’t like feminists, in general. I don’t like anyone accusing anybody of “asking for it,” in general, but in this particular instance it is so difficult to explain that even claiming the word “feminist” is, in itself a feminist act. In the article I’m reading, a UK women’s magazine printed this sentiment: “feminism: we still need it but we want a new name for it.” This, reflecting on all of the reading about language preceding it, led me to this question: Why are only the subversive uses of language asked to change? Why would anyone feel it is alright to ask an entire movement to change it’s name because of an unfounded, sexist, and misogynist backlash against its very foundation? I will not accede to the demands of masculinist culture and change my stance, and I will not choose a different word based on the manipulation of a patriarchal society. Feminism is about calling out inequality and demanding that the patriarchy end, so why on earth would you ask me to appease this demand of The Man, which attempts to discolor “feminism” and mold it into a dirty, shameful word?

I will not be your bubblegum feminist to make you feel more at ease with me, and I will not pick from your “more acceptable” terms to desribe what I am. I am a feminist. This means, inherently, that I’m dedicated to the reorganization of society and a rejection of current hierarchies and patterns of oppression.

Deal with it.

In Sisterhood and Solidarity,

Me

What! It’s Blog For Choice Day! You don’t say!

21 Jan

i like blogging. i like choice. way to go, NARAL, putting them together!

Well, hello y’all! All righty. Let’s just dive in, shall we? Today is Blog for Choice Day, as feministing.com alerted me in the fleeting last minutes of my afternoon at work. “But, why today?” you might ask, and that is a relatively understandable question. Tomorrow is the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, lovely readers, and that is why today is BFCD.

I know, I know, the a-word isn’t something people generally bring up in polite company, but let’s be frank. I stopped paying attention to socially-enforced norms of politeness about three years ago, and so far so good. I do acknowledge the complexity of this issue, but only culturally. Let me explain. In other developed countries, and in the time before Roe v. Wade, abortion was not the a-word. It’s just something women sometimes have to do, and that is how it was treated. (For first-hand accounts of this, you should definitely check out Jennifer Baumgardner’s work in I Had An Abortion, also available in book form and as a t-shirt). For a fictional, but still incredibly honest, look at abortion across generations, you can check out Cher’s incredible film If These Walls Could Talk. (Just be sure you have a hanky, because the three main characters are making incredibly difficult life decisions.) My point is that in the contemporary American political landscape, the movement many refer to as “pro-life” (but I prefer to call “anti-choice”) wasn’t organized and visible in the way we see it now until after Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973. So, I accept that our political landscape has created a controversial topic out of what was, once, just something women sometimes had to do, and in observance of that I acknowledge that some readers will still see this topic as something incredibly polarizing and about everything but the everyday realities of women’s lives and their ability to make decisions about their bodies.

See, this is the part of the conversation that gets lost in the rapid-fire political arena, where talking heads try to address philosophical, political, and economic issues about abortion while completely silencing the voices of the women who are actually experiencing the reality of abortion in their lives. Why is that, I wonder? I hate to fall back on the “damn the patriarchy!” trope, but when something that is, at its base, a question of the ability of women to make their own choices about their bodies, doesn’t the “damn the patriarchy!” argument seem to hold a little more water?

I know many people who are personally “pro-life” because of their own experiences and history or because of religious beliefs, and I encourage them to have their own opinions and to make their own decisions about their lives. Just because I have the right to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that I will do it if it is in opposition to my own beliefs. However, in a country as multifaceted and varied as ours, attempting to change women’s access to abortion based on the conservative religious views of only one group of people seems completely irresponsible, wrong, and morally imperialist.

Are any of you familiar with this symbol?

no more coat hangers!

If yes, then you already know the answer to my “what do you think it means?” question. Some people are familiar enough with it to know it has something to do with the women’s movement. Others are so far removed from the realities that caused this to become a symbol they have made such assumptions as, “what do they have against wire hangers?” Here’s the skinny, folks. When abortion was not legal, women had them anyway. To assume that just by reducing access through legislation one will stop women from having abortions completely disregards the reality of women before Roe v. Wade was passed. Women were having unhygienic operations, sometimes on their kitchen tables, meeting men who did, on occasion, assault them as part of the procedure in order to procure abortions. One self-remedy, along with dangerous and life-threatening herbal remedies, was to use a wire hanger. I’ll leave it to you to determine how that worked. Just think about it for a second, it will come to you. Women were coming into emergency wings at hospitals daily, suffering from infections and other complications due to the unsanitary and unregulated nature of abortion pre-Roe. Women were, quite literally, dying to have abortions. This is in America, a “developed” nation, and only forty years ago.

After W made nominations to the Supreme Court, the concept of overturning Roe v. Wade received a lot of airtime, both from pro- and anti- choice camps. Jennifer Baumgardner makes an incredibly astute observation, as she points out that a country without legal access to abortion would not be all that different from the reality of many women today. There has been so much legislation passed to reduce access to abortion services, and the political climate in many states has reduced clinics providing the procedure to, in some cases, only one in the entire state. This, combined with such policies as the 24-hour waiting period, creates what adds up to be, realistically, a country where women do not have access to abortions.

There is a new law that the GOP plans to bring into the House in the new session, HR-3, or the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” Not only do I find this preposterous and offensive, but I’m also a little confused about the idea that we can choose where our tax dollars go according to our own religious and moral beliefs. For example, can I, a crazy feminazi, earmark all of my taxes to only support abortion services and comprehensive sex education? I also wonder how the GOP would feel about a “No Taxpayer Funding for War Act,” which I think would receive just as much moral support, though perhaps, since it isn’t just effecting a “special interest group,” people would find it less realistic.

I realize this post may have been a little all over the place, but it was my attempt at blogging for choice. I am a firm believer that women are fully capable of making decisions, even ones as heavy as accepting, and using, our control as the ones with the uteri over life. I don’t think that this decision is necessarily an easy one, but I also do not find fault with the women for whom it was not difficult. Abortion is a personal, not public, decision, as ruled by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, and I regard it as such. I do not believe in limiting access to or funding for abortion, because history has shown us how dire the consequences can be. I would never, ever force someone to abort their fetus, but I demand that same respect should I or anyone else decide not to carry that little sack of cells to term. I am pro-choice, and I’m proud to be.

In Sisterhood and Solidarity,

me